Deaf Person of the Month
Lauren Teruel comes from an artistic family—an artist mother, a musician father—and grew up in Chicago's Hyde Park neighborhood. After being mainstreamed at Holy Trinity School, she entered MSSD on Kendall Green—and it was then that she decided not to use her voice anymore, so that others would not judge her intelligence by the quality of her voice. At MSSD, she ws actively involved in theater. At CSUN, she majored in English with an emphasis on creative writing. In 2000, while a staff member at NCOD, she became the second woman of color to become Miss Deaf America.
In Spring 2007, she emceed the Banquet Gala of the First National Deaf People of Color Conference. Hoping to become a children's author, she moved to New York, studied Education at Hunter College, and taught kindergarten and first grade at P.S. 347, where she became a don't-miss. When she read a book, other teachers would come by to watch the beauty of her signing. She also acted in community-theater and indie-film productions. In Todd Haynes's Wonderstruck (2017), which featured several notable Deaf actors and actresses, she had a small role as Pearl, the family maid (in the house of Rose Kincaid's father).
When she was asked to tutor director Kenny Leon in ASL, she had no idea that it would lead to a major upheaval in her life. She was, at the time, a stay-at-home mother with two young Deaf boys, married to Deaf poetry-slam performer-artist Douglas Ridloff, and living in Williamsburg, Brooklyn. Ridloff taught Leon basic signing, and educated him about the Deaf community.
Ridloffwas working on a revival of Children of a Lesser God (1979), written by Mark Medoff for Phyllis Frelich, who first performed in it in Los Angeles and on Broadway. The play had been widely performed in the U.S. and abroad through the years, but this was the first Broadway revival. He had already cast Joshua Jackson as James Leeds, the leading man. But he still had no leading lady. So he asked Ridloff to pinch-hit for the role of Sarah Norman at a table-read. He was impressed. Without auditioning, she got the role. She had skill and presence. Leon told a reporter, "If you didn't know her résumé, you'd swear she'd been doing this her whole life."
Ridloff tutored Jackson in ASL. The play got some mixed reviews—some favorable and some largely unfavorable. A common complaint was that the play was badly dated. But just about all of the critics, including those who found fault with the production, the casting, the sets, and/or the politics, praised Ridloff's charismatic performance. She told a reporter that she could identify with Sarah, the proud, angry alumna-janitor who refuses to use her voice.
The experience of playing Sarah Norman onstage was physically and mentally exhausting. Ridloff ran between two and five miles daily as a form of kinetic meditation, reviewing her lines as she ran; on show days, she ran in Central Park between performances. She had high praise for Doug, who "held the fort" during her acting stint.
And after Children ended its run, it was time for a well-earned vacation.